Gillian Larson: “I don’t want to be the overwhelming mother”

At 61, Gillian Larson is Survivor Gabon‘s oldest contestant. But she had more energy and enthusiasm than anyone else. Gillian was so excited about everything it seemed as if Survivor was a drug and she was tweaking on it.

She was thrilled about everything–from the show’s creative challenges to its music to its “social/psychological game”–and has applied 15 times over eight years. You have to kind of wonder why they never picked her until now, and this is purely speculation, but it may be because that enthusiasm works against her–as it could in the game.

That’s because Gillian is absolutely exhausting to talk to. She’s had interesting life experiences and is admirably passionate about life, but she just exudes so much energy it’s draining to listen to her and hard to stay engaged. I think that may have influenced her low ranking in my initial list, because even re-listening to our interview, I was amused by her in the first few minutes, but by the end I couldn’t wait for those 17 and a half minutes to be over.

To her credit, she recognizes this. When I asked if her enthusiasm might work against her in the game, she said, “I’m going to do a lot of assessment of how people are. What you’re seeing now is really me, but maybe what TV will see for the first I don’t know long will be like, who’s that? My friends will say, she’s being a bit of a dud. … I don’t want to be overwhelming.” That word and theme were ones she returned to many times. “I don’t want to be the overwhelming mother,” she said later. Because of that, Gillian plans “to check it all out before I make any moves at all, before I’m even me.” She also doesn’t want them to know how old she is because they might think she’s “an old broad they should boot off” and “a useless old thing who gets them losing challenges.”

That seems to be her strategy: assess and wait. “I don’t want look like a dud, I don’t want to look overwhelming, I don’t want to look like a leader, I want to look like a nothing at the beginning,” Gillian told me. Discussing game strategy, Gillian cited Nelson Mandel’s theory of leadership: “He believes that the spirit of leadership and the effective leadership is to let the nimblest of the flock run ahead, while all along, they’re actually being led from behind.”

That said, she also plans to “be a mom,” unless the others have mother issues, which you can hear her discuss below. Besides the strengths she says she brings into the game, like her strong swimming abilities, she said, “I’ve learned everything I possibly can” about finding food and living in the wild.

Born and raised in South Africa, she travels a lot, although “on a shoestring,” spending about $10 a day by staying in hostels and backpacking around. Since moving to the United States with her husband, she’s moved 18 times. While she’s a nurse, she just moved to the west coast, and “just haven’t gotten around to get another job,” she said.

Hear Gillian’s enthusiasm for yourself, and also hear her talk about what she doesn’t want her tribemates to know, and her possible role as the tribe’s mother:

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.